In Which Great Things Are Afoot
The message came in the morning, burbling through the brilliant turquoise waves of the sea.
From Melisande, Peter-Pan-the-best-that-ever-was, from Melisande...
Peter dove into the cool waters, and the whispers coalesced.
I have found it. Meet me at Singing Rock at sunset.
Peter exploded out of the waters into the sunlight, crowing with delight. Tinkerbell darted around him, flickering irritatedly at the drenched state of her clothes and demanding to know what all the fuss was about.
"Tink, oh Tink!" he laughed, "She's found it! She's found Winterkiss's memory!" He did cartwheels in the air around her, a delighted spray of boyish limbs. "This is perfect - we should have Wendy back tonight!"
Peter soared into the air then, his laughter trailing after him.
This was, in fact, why he didn't see Tink's rather furrowed brow as she looked up after him. To be honest, Tink hadn't really expected the memory to be found so soon. Curse the mermaid's quickness! It really wouldn't be good for Tink's Boy to have that Wendy-girl around again - why, the girl had wanted him to grow up with her the last time she was here! Imagine! Tink's Boy tricked into growing up and leaving Neverland...
Tink shuddered a little, closing her eyes.
No, no - this really wouldn't do. He was meant to be her Boy forever, pure and untouchable and wild and free. Careless innocence and cruel simplicity, a Boy of sunlight and forest.
Tink paused for a moment, a very complicated thought entering her head. That mermaid had found the memory very, very quickly, hadn't she? In all the waters of the sea, she had found it after a single night's search, as if she had been meant to find it.
Maybe the Jack knew.
Well, the Jack did seem to want to keep the Wendy-girl for some reason. Of course, he had no fairy of his own to love him. Perhaps that was why he wanted her.
Let him have her, then. And good riddance.
Of course, Tink would still help her Boy with this plan - but she wouldn't say a word about the Jack possibly knowing all about the plan. It was part of the game, part of the adventure. And if the Jack turned out to be trickier in his plans than her Boy, well then...so be it. She would have no female competition for her Boy's attention, and that was perfectly fine with Tink.
Tink smiled and flew after her Boy to spend the glorious summer day ahead of them plotting their latest adventure.
Wendy and Jack strolled through the forest to the east of the Black Castle, basking in the eerie green-gold afternoon light. Not like sunlight, really, but the odd glint of it suited the forest. The forest itself positively screamed Enchanted. The trees soared into the unseen sky above, vast expanses of wood and leaf. Rather like the Light Side's jungle, really. Just...murkier. Less complete, somehow.
Almost perfect, but not quite.
The thought was low and soft in Wendy's mind. Bitter, proud, and tasting of starry nights.
She glanced over at Jack. The blank coolness of his eyes betrayed nothing as he smiled at her.
Poor man, she thought cheekily, you don't like coming in second to Peter in anything, do you?
Jack's smile chilled, his eyes sharper. Why be second when you can be first?
Wendy empathized with his competitive spirit, though she smirked just a trifle. But she did want to fix the imbalance within this forest. For an imbalance it certainly was, and though she couldn't have told how she knew, she knew every creature within the forest felt the subtle undercurrent of insubstantiality.
What to do about this forest, then?
Wendy considered for a moment. One had to indeed admit that the forest was a bit on the dark and brooding side. But it needed to be separate from the Light Side's jungle. Balance did not mean losing the uniqueness of the forest. Rather, there needed to be a...filling out of the space of possibilities. The Light Side's jungle had a rather dark tone to it already, though - vicious beasts to hunt, fierce Indian tribes to fight or ally with. The Dark Side almost needed a touch of lightness, really.
A lovely idea took shape in Wendy's mind suddenly as she thought on her assessment of the forest as Enchanted.
"Jack," she said, smiling mischievously and taking his hand, "There's a story I'd like to tell you."
Jack's eyes sparkled with anticipation and invitation. "Is there now? Do tell."
Wendy's smile widened into a grin as she jumped onto a nearby stump and sat down. She gestured grandly to the grassy expanse in front of her. "Do sit down so that you may properly enjoy the story."
Jack laughed softly as he complied and Wendy began to the intone the words of opening. "Once upon a time," she said, "in the realm of Perhaps, to the east of the Black Castle, there was an Enchanted Forest. And this forest had very many extraordinary creatures in it, some with the gift of speech." A golden shimmer accompanied her words. "It also had, however, a very serious problem with a surplus of both dragons and tea..."
Several minutes later, Wendy's story was finished and she and the Jack resumed their stroll through the Enchanted Forest. A squirrel darted by, stopped suddenly, and bowed low to the Jack. "Your highness, Lord of Perhaps, Negotiator Tractatus Draconum Theaeque."
Jack cast Wendy a twinkling look before gravely returning the squirrel's formal greeting with the formal reply to a talking squirrel of the Enchanted Forest. "Well met, patterfoot."
"Your highness," acknowledged the squirrel, now upright, "I'm afraid I must be off, but would your highness and his lady friend please make sure to mind any of the dragons you should chance to meet? They've been quite testy lately before they've had their afternoon cup of tea."
Wendy laughed suddenly, which she disguised nearly successfully as a very violent sneeze.
The squirrel looked very hard at Wendy.
Wendy attempted to compose herself, so as not to give offense.
With a wry glance in Wendy's direction, Jack answered decorously, "Thank you, patterfoot. Your advice is most appreciated."
The squirrel paused, then said in a thoroughly motherly and disapproving tone, "And your highness might try taking his lady friend to Grandmother Toad for a good tea for that cold."
Jack's eyes positively glowed with humor. "Indeed, patterfoot. I thank you again for advice well received."
The squirrel sniffed reprovingly at Wendy, then bowed once more, and scampered away.
Wendy's eyes followed the squirrel as it left, her voice suddenly quite soft, "Could my words really have made all this?"
Jack tilted his head to the side, his eyes sparkling blue and gold in the light. "Is it so difficult to believe?"
Wendy smiled, amused at herself. "Yes, I suppose I do believe scores of other impossible things. And recently, this belief has turned out to be well-placed."
Jack's own lips quirked in an answering smile. "Oh? And what impossible things would these be?"
Wendy gave him a sidelong glance, mischief lighting her eyes. "That would be prized information, I suspect. What would you offer me in return?"
Jack's laughter rippled like quicksilver at her sudden negotiation tactic. He paused for a moment, then spoke. "Do you ever wonder how time flows here with respect to your stories? How long has the treaty with the dragons existed, for instance?"
Wendy looked full into his glittering eyes. "Good bait. I'll take it. Shall I go first?"
"As my lady wishes." They were courtly words, laced with a certain thrumming purr that she was learning to recognize as an easy manipulation of his.
And even still, her skin began to tingle. It vexed her that he would still do such things and that she would still so easily fall prey to them. To retaliate, she chose her reply with a mercenary efficiency. "Two impossible things I do well to believe in? Why, you and Peter, of course."
The laughter froze in his eyes, darkening as calculation slid behind them.
She returned his look of deepening ice, though she wasn't overly pleased to restart their verbal sparring. "Your turn."
"Very well." It was a sporting voice, of a challenge laid down. His smile was a sharp thing. "Time flows down many paths in this realm. The dragon treaty, for instance, is ancient and not ancient. It has existed for ages and has only recently come into being. It is a thing of Story. As is everything here."
Silence hung for a few moments.
At last, Wendy let out small sigh of impatience. "You enjoy being paradoxical, don't you?"
His smile twisted into something far more amused. "Perhaps."
Wendy closed her eyes briefly. Why me?
Though it was meant as a mock complaint, the words plucked at something deep inside her thoughts. Wendy was suddenly overcome by a vision of connecting threads across Perhaps and Neverland, bright fey fire lines of...something. Ghostly, pulsing, shifting, connecting through her and so many others here. For a brief moment, she felt very, very small. A shiver rustled down her spine, and the question became a real thing of power.
Jack felt its seductive pull, that reckless risk of Truth. And so he answered, his voice soft as shadows. "Because you really do believe."
Wendy considered this. That answer's a little too easy, though.
He smiled wryly at her skeptic thought, and turned away from her. "Sometimes the easy answers are easy because they are true."
"And sometimes they're not," Wendy replied softly to his back.
He nodded his agreement. "And sometimes they're not."
Wendy sighed suddenly. "Do you have to practice at being this unhelpful?"
Her words surprised a short laugh from him. "Natural talent, actually."
She crossed her arms, smiling a little in return. "I should have known." Walking around to face him, she continued, "Is there any helpful information I'm likely to get from you?"
His face was suffused with sparkling mischief, taking her rather surprise. He reached out to her crossed arms, encouraging them unfold. "Not for the rest of the afternoon at least."
Wendy's smile widened. "You really enjoy all the sparring, don't you? Insufferable man."
He bowed courteously. "As you wish, my lady."
"That wasn't a request, sir!"
His eyes remained playful. "Just as well. You wouldn't really want to see me at my most insufferable."
Wendy raised her hand to her mouth in mock disbelief. "You can be more so? Inconceivable."
"Shall I attempt to convince you?"
"No, quite alright. I'll just add it to the list of impossible things I believe in."
Jack's laugher rolled across her. "Very well, then, Mistress Storyteller.."
"Indeed, Lord Winterkiss. Now, I think we had best continue out meanderings. There's a certain someone who owes me a flying lesson that doesn't involve pixie dust."
Jack's smile was warm with merriment. "A certain someone most certainly does. And there's much more to be seen in the Enchanted Forest besides." He offered her his arm. "My lady?"
"My lord." Wendy placed her arm in his, and they walked on.
The evening had come, the sun sinking lazily beneath the rippling sea in a riot of color. Soon, all was shadow and moonlight. The violet glow of the eyeball lichen shimmered against the surface of Singing Rock as a soft night breeze caused it to hum a twining, low melody.
With his panpipe, Peter unconsciously wrought an easy harmony with the notes from the rock. Tink stood on his shoulder, flickering with impatience as she listened to the hollow, lilting music of rock and pipe.
Melisande surfaced suddenly, a sack trailing behind her. A dark gash marred her chest, though she appeared reasonably unharmed otherwise. She gave Tink a hard, appraising look before directing her sharp eyes at Peter. Her words were sibilant and smooth. "It took some doing, boy - but I have it. It was just outside the beast's lair, buried beneath the muck."
Tink chimed an inquiry about her wound.
Melisande smiled bitterly. "Every adventure has its price, fairy."
"Show it to me!" demanded Peter imperiously, eyes bright with anticipation as he leaned closer to the water. "Show me the memory."
The mermaid opened the sack, which filled the air with a thick, rotten odor.
Peter drew back sharply with a grimace. "Is that what malice and disappointment smells like? It's like...it's..." He trailed off, lost for words in his revulsion.
"Like a disease," supplied Melisande. "Yes - it's a hideous thing. Very damaging, as you can imagine."
"This is what Winterkiss carried inside him?"
Peter drew closer again, wafting experimentally. "It reminds me of something, though...someone." He looked out across the sea, thoughtful puzzlement tracing across his golden features. His eyes became unfocused, distant. "Tink, did we know someone else like the Jack once? Someone dark..."
Tink's eyes widened for a moment, then narrowed. She tweaked his hair suddenly and chimed curtly back at him that he was a silly Boy. What did it matter? The time for the adventure was now.
"True, Tink," he said, turning to Melisande. "Alright - give it to me."
The mermaid smiled coldly. "Tell me of your plan first."
A gleeful smile spread across Peter's face. "Can you get an audience with Winterkiss and Wendy?"
Melisande looked at him and Tink both, finger sliding to the tear around her neck. "I can."
"Good," replied Peter, still gleeful. "Because we have a present for Winterkiss that Wendy should see."
Melisande looked at them both disdainfully. "What are you going to do - put it in a gift-wrapped box and hope it melds with him as soon as he opens the lid?"
"No...well, sort of," he said, grinning and pulling out a turquoise conch shell. It was enormous, captivating. Peter waggled his eyebrows, beginning a Let's Pretend in his best Story voice. "This, you see, is a very special shell." The thrum of his words pulled at Melisande. "Lost for ages in the waters of the sea, it contains the ancient melodies thought to have been lost to merkind forever. If you raise it to your ear, you can hear them, though - and they're beautiful." Soft almost-music shimmered through the silence, riding behind Peter's voice.. "They are the first, true songs of the merpeople."
Melisande stared at him, lost in his Let's Pretend for a moment. "You tell a good tale, boy."
Golden heat flashed in Peter's eyes for a moment. "I learned from a good storyteller."
"Indeed," replied Melisande thoughtfully. "And the Jack, being a collector of words and music and art - he will want this thing. He will want to hear it, to tip the shell to his ear and hear its story."
Peter grinned. "Exactly. Now, give me the memory. Actually," he amended, holding out the shell at arm's length, "just dump it in."
Melisande very carefully did so. Unfortunately, though now hidden from sight, the vile effluvia still permeated the casing of the shell.
Peter turned to Tink. "We need to do something about that."
Tink cheekily chimed her agreement, and fluttered about, pondering.
After several moments, Melisande dove under the water in disgust. Peter and Tink looked at each other warily. Soon, however, the mermaid surfaced with a sharp bit of oyster shell. "Bring it down to water-level, boy."
Curious, Peter did so.
Melisande stabbed suddenly at her chest with the oyster shard, reopening the wound from the crocodile. Deep purple blood seeped from the glistening flesh. She touched the silver tear around her neck to it, and the tear began to glow with a rich, blue-green light. "A bit of your dust, fairy," she said, grimacing, "if you please."
As puzzled as Peter, Tink sprinkled some over the blue-green light. It took on a golden hue. Melisande immediately touched the tear to the turquoise conch, which took on the blue-green-gold glow for a moment. Then, all the light fell away and everything was shadows and moonlight and the gentle violet glow of the lichen.
And the stench was gone.
Peter and Tink raised eyebrows at the mermaid, waiting for an explanation. Tink especially wanted to know about the fairy dust, tinkling her hope that its use had been necessary, given its valuable nature.
Melisande hissed at the fairy. "I give heartblood for this little illusion and you whine about losing some of your omnipresent fairy dust?"
Tink chimed back a smart reply about how well an illusion was going to work anyway against the Jack.
"Foolish fairy," said Melisande, smiling disdainfully. "Why do you think I used his tear? His tear for illusion, my heartblood for the siren-call of persuasion, and your precious pixie dust to ensure that the power of the light side would mask the illusion even from him."
Tink sniffed indignantly about the success of the illusion, but acquiesced that it wasn't a bad plan as plans went.
Melisande turned to Peter. "So then, a meeting with the Jack. He will admit me, if I ask it. But what makes you think he will allow you to be there?"
"He won't. We'll sneak in."
Melisande snorted. "You think he won't know you're coming?"
Peter grinned. "Just set up the meeting."
Melisande looked at him sharply for a moment, feeling his aura of shining luck. He pulsed with it, this Boy hero of Neverland. "Fine, then," she said finally, "When do you want the meeting?"
"Tonight at midnight," he said, his laughter trailing into the night. "Let's do it! Let's get that nasty Jack."
Melisande smiled viciously back. "Indeed."
The eerie gold-green light of the Enchanted Forest had faded into a dusky twilight, and the forest itself began to melt away into meadows of brilliant blue and purple flowers with a curiously heady scent.
She was about to remark on it when Jack smiled a very vicious sort of smile. It startled her, and she swallowed hard before she spoke. "What is it? Why do you smile so?"
His gaze drifted lazily to her as he continued to smile. "I love it when things go according to plan."
She pressed on carefully. "And what things are going according to what plan?"
He blinked slowly, predatorily. "Unrest with the mermaids will be quelled tonight. The one dissenting force in the mermaids, Melisande, has requested an audience with me." Something dark flashed behind his winter-star eyes. "It seems she's come to make peace after all."
Wendy looked at him thoughtfully. "But there's something more, isn't there? You anticipate this the way a hunter does his prey."
His face became blank for a moment, startled by her far-too-accurate assessment.
She fought with moderate success to keep from smiling. "You might try not thinking thoughts that translate best as villainous laughter."
He looked very solemnly at her. "Perhaps maniacal glee would be better then?"
A giggle escaped Wendy before she could help it. "Alas, too transparent as well."
He bowed his head, flashing a smile. "Then I shall have to simply accept that you will know of my dastardly plots."
"Indeed. And what is the nature of these plots exactly?"
He spread his arms wide, his expression sublime. "Why, dastardly, of course!"
Wendy closed her eyes, suddenly burning with vexation, as if a dam had broken inside her. She took a deep, calming breath, and then tried again. "Yes, but what do they involve?"
His eyes were flat as glass as he replied, "Things I desire, and things I do not." The answer had a melodic quality to it, of words said often.
She looked at him, curiosity and irritation mingling in her voice. "What things?"
He simply smiled at her, eyes still impenetrable.
Wendy closed her eyes, and took another calming breath.
Well, you wanted a villain, after all. This is what you get. The thought was low, and chiding, and vaguely smug.
Yes, agreed Wendy amiably, but that doesn't mean I don't want to strangle said villain.
His words drifted to her, an icy caress of possibility. "So do it."
Her eyes snapped open. "What?"
"You want to attack me, do you? Do it. Let your frustration out, your violence." His voice was silky, beckoning.
A certain cold precision suffused Wendy and she eyed him and the dagger in his belt. A ragged recklessness tugged at her thoughts, but practicality finally won out. "I can't attack you. You're armed. I'm not. I'd be lost in an instant."
He smiled, diamond-hard. "Let's even the odds, then, hmmm?" He removed his dagger from his belt, and laid it aside. "No external weapons."
"But internal ones are just fine?" she snapped back cheekily.
"Yes," he said, eyes full of fire, "yes they are."
She had approximately half a moment to consider what he meant before he enveloped her from behind and held her fast.
"Let goof me," she hissed, writhing.
"But that's not how the game is played, my dear."
She jerked to the left, but his grip only tightened. "You think this is a game?"
"Yes," he said simply, "I do."
She stopped squirming, and became very, very still. "Well, I'm not playing it." Grumpiness radiated from her.
His grip loosened a bit at this. She took advantage of it to jam her elbow into his solar plexus, grind her heel into his in-step, and knock him off his feet.
She leaned over his supine form with a triumphant little smile. "You're right - I feel much better now. Much less frustration."
He looked at her for a moment, and then closed his eyes, laughing softly as he clutched his injured midsection. "Well done, darling girl." He breathed in and out carefully. "Come a bit closer, will you? There's something I want to tell you and it pains me currently to sit up."
She smirked a little as she lowered her ear to him. He coughed as he continued to laugh softly, and then snaked a leather-clad hand out to grip her throat.
Her eyes widened in shock, and she said nothing.
His eyes glittered with cold fire. "No one said the game was finished." He sat up with a grimace, his hand still a vise around her throat. She scooted back, hitting a large rock behind her and breathing raggedly against his grip, thoughts racing. She hit upon a nicely desperate plan involving her foot and certain of his more delicate parts.
"Now, now - I wouldn't do that, if I were you," he chided gently, maneuvering his lower body out of her foot's radius. "I don't much care for it - it seems rather unsporting."
"Well," she rasped, "what would you suggest I do, then?"
The words stung, and wrestled her pride out from beneath the fine wail of panic that was currently covering her mind. It was a hard struggle, for the outrage and frustration were woven together with that aggravatingly omnipresent fascination with him.
She paused for a moment. Oh, well that was cleverer, certainly...
She let the strange fascination well up in her, the floating wisps of curiosity and desire, that need for something glittering and dark and precious, something full of struggle and sparring and ruthless intent. She let it fill her, move through her, roil around the surface of her mind like an ocean storm. And then she directed it at him.
He inhaled sharply as he let her slump to the ground.
She laid her head back against the rock, smiling and simply breathing. After a few moments, she swallowed and whispered hoarsely. "Was that clever enough for you?"
He sat down gracefully next to her, with a grimace for his injured solar plexus. "Yes, that worked quite nicely."
They sat awhile in a silence that was absurdly amiable and satisfied.
She spoke first, eyes still closed. "Will you promise me that this thing you were so viciously happy about earlier isn't to do with Peter? Or imminent doom? If so, we can avoid more hand-to-hand combat."
The corners of his mouth quirked upwards. "But it was such a lovely diversion. And the truly interesting parts were your delightful mental tactics."
She smiled. "Well, you do seem to have the upper hand physically."
"But not mentally?" He clutched a hand to his heart. "Oh, you wound me to the quick, madame."
She let a small giggle escape. "A pox upon your verbal blocks." She fell serious again, and leaned her head delicately against his shoulder. "Promise me your plans are not all about Peter, Jack. Promise me, please."
He looked out across the blue and purple meadow, a warm smile floating across his lips as he raised her hand to them, and kissed it gently. "That, I can promise, my dear."
She blushed a bit at this, and let silence have its way as she enjoyed the green-growing things scent of him next to her.
At length, she spoke. "So show me another way one can fly without pixie dust, Jack. Or would you break your pact to me?"
There was decided mischief in his reply. "Such a villainous thing to do. Perhaps I should."
Wendy's response was as swift as her smile. "But then you would be breaking the rules of Perhaps, wouldn't you? Doesn't seem terribly wise."
"Too true," he acquiesced lightly. "Lightning would surely strike me on the spot."
"And it would be such a shame to ruin that nice black velvet of yours. You'd best show me."
"Indeed," he replied. He turned to look at her then. "Do you remember the silk fliers from the ball?"
Wendy arched an eyebrow. Well, they certainly had been flying. And flying very, very high at that. "I believe another promise of yours involved no imminent doom scenarios for me, did it not?"
" 'Unless you count the flying without pixie dust'," Jack quoted, smiling wickedly as he stood up and extended his hand to her. "Come."
She blinked ruefully as she took his hand, and they walked past another blue and purple meadow to a copse of slender silver trees that seemed to reach endlessly to the night sky above. The lower branches of the trees seem to sprout the curious silk fliers from the ball, clad in their tight-fitting black skins. Brilliant emerald eyes blinked down at Wendy and Jack.
Among the branches hung black silk cords, long and flowing. Wendy eyed them with distinct wonder and vague wariness.
Jack, meanwhile, had been whispering steadily for some moments as a bright ball of faerie light that blazed into existence in his gloved hands. He finished the final instructions to it, and blew it gently up to the higher silver branches.
Soon after, another black-clad figure lowered down to the base of the silver trees and inclined its head to Jack. "You request a lesson with the Spreyli."
The figure nodded sharply once, and turned its back on them to walk into the center of the silver trees. "Come, then."
Jack and Wendy followed.
For the next hour, they were instructed meticulously on the skill of silk-flying. The technique in the initial run and lift-off was generally the most difficult thing to master for non-Spreyli, apparently. Spreyli silk, fortunately, was particularly suited to the task of flying, having been crafted to effortlessly induce the speed and strength necessary to become airborne. However, as the silk was created in Perhaps, it was subject to the mental state of the fliers. Jack and Wendy were warned quite assiduously about the dangers of doubt and fear. Fliers possessed by such feelings found themselves dumped quite abruptly to the ground - from whatever their starting height. Spreyli, being light-boned and dexterous, generally recovered easily. Non-Spreyli were often not so fortunate.
Wendy attempted to squelch her previous feelings of wariness. She let the wonder of flight fill her, memories of gliding without effort with Peter through the jungle, out in the brilliant sun of the light side. Side by side, laughing, unspoken promises...
The spreyli turned suddenly towards her, measuring her. The words came clipped and precise. "Yes. That is the frame of mind required. Keep that, but without the bitterness."
Wendy, startled by this assessment, felt her thoughts freeze. When the spreyli continued to look at her (reminding her uncomfortably of her dance master's imperious stare), she began to focus on the memory of being in Jack's arms when she was taken from Reddon House. It had been free and suffused with the thrill of the unexpected.
The spreyli smiled a very pointy smile. "Yes - that. Keep that, and you will do well here."
The spreyli turned to Jack, measuring him for a moment before nodding once, curtly. "I would have expected no less from you, Lord Winterkiss."
Jack favored the spreyli with an inscrutable smile, bowing his head.
"Now fly." With this brief send off, the spreyli turned and grabbed hold of one of the silk cords hanging nearby. In an instant, the spreyli was up and out of sight in the great towering limbs of the silver trees above.
Jack turned to Wendy, offering her a cord of her own. "Shall we?"
She accepted it with a steady hand. "Do let's."
And so it began. The initial burst of speed was breath-taking, so much so that Wendy scarcely noticed when her feet left the ground. She remained opposite Jack in this circular flight, whirling through the air at equal speed. The air flowed by her, whipping her hair, kissing her face and tugging at her sleeves. This was soaring, free and wild - something she had not thought to find again outside Neverland's pixie dust. Her laughter flowed into the night, bright and molten, echoed by his.
Jack increased his speed to chase her. His eyes glowed with merriment as his fingers brushed at her shoulder, seeking to capture her. She dodged, spinning out from his grasp, still laughing.
And he dove into her, so close again - but she dipped to the right, eluding him once more. It was a game of catch-me-if-you-can that they played, feinting and arcing through the air.
Bright emerald eyes watched them with cool approval, blinking occasionally.
At last, Jack swooped into Wendy from below, embracing her from behind as they swung through the air together, turning around and around and around. Their laughter trailed behind them, sharp and fey and joyous. And that is how they remained until the momentum of the swing lessened enough to touch ground again.
On the ground, they released the cords, which lifted up and away into the silver branches. Wendy remained in Jack's arms, her thoughts quiet and content as she leaned back against him. Ah, how good it felt to be enveloped like this - so safe.
But you're not safe, are you? Not really. And that's how you want it.
Wendy didn't bother to argue with this thought, as it was perfectly true. She did, however, take Jack's gloved hand in hers and walk out of the Spreyli trees, bowing her thanks to the green-eyed creatures as she passed.
Some distance away from the Spreyli grove, Wendy spoke, her words soft with memory. "The silk-flying - it reminds me of those fairy dancers that night with Peter..."
"Yes," said Jack softly in turn, "they were beautiful, weren't they?"
Wendy looked at him, her expression measuring. "How well do you know the Captain, Jack?" She paused, looking down, and then forged ahead. "No, no, enough of this hedging. Where did you come from, Jack?"
"Ah, my darling," he smiled slyly, "you already know."
She closed her eyes, shaking her head slightly. "But you could say it, you know."
"And what would you have me say?"
"That you're him. You're Hook. Somehow."
He stepped back suddenly at her words, and began to stalk around her with that irrepressible smile, circling her. "But I am very much not, as you see."
She crossed her arms and did not turn her gaze to follow him as he circled. "But you were, Jack. You were."
"I remember," he continued, "what the Captain knew." He was circling closer now, his chin tucked down and eyes full of cold fire as he smiled. "But I am not him."
Wendy's arms remained crossed, and she was trying with varying success to ignore how very feral he appeared, and how entranced she was by the sparking danger that surrounded him. "I notice that you didn't deny that you were him. Clever Jack."
"So I didn't." Closer and closer, he moved. "Clever Wendy."
"Who are you really?"
"A man. The ruler of Perhaps. The Jack." He smiled as he teased, "Surely you know, since your words made me who I am."
"Into this incarnation of you." Her words were impatient. "You wore the Captain like a finely tailored coat, and now you wear this role - the Jack - the same way. You've worn countless others, I'm sure."
"You think so?"
She inhaled, then exhaled, impatience mounting behind a fine veil of trepidation. Her voice was low. "Who are you really, Jack?"
"I am really anyone you want me to be, Storyteller." It was a teasing mockery of her tone. And he was now within touching distance.
Not the right question, whispered a light, sharp voice in the back of her mind. "What are you?" Her breath came in a sigh as he encircled her from behind.
The answer drifted sinuously into her ear. "Dreams made flesh"
"How?" she breathed, eyes closed.
She felt a gentle kiss on the top of her head. "Your imagination. I've waited for it for a very long time."
She trembled only slightly beneath the kiss. "What do you want from me, really?"
Gentle, teasing silver-coin laughter . "But you know the answer to that, my Wendy - happiness."
A delicious, perfidious shudder stole through her at his use of my Wendy. "And what would that require exactly?"
"Don't you know?"
A wry half-smile twisted her lips as she considered this question. She recognized his manipulation of her imagination, oh yes, but she did want to answer these questions. She wanted to give the Jack his very precise answers very, very much. And so she played his game.
"Freedom is what you want. Freedom to come and go, freedom to be as you want, freedom to love and be loved..." Her words trailed off as a series of golden shimmers melted across her vision for a moment.
A delicate silence encompassed them both. He held her close to him, molding his body around hers. She felt his lips just below her ear. It was a whispered caress of words as she leaned into him, accepting him. "Yes."
And then they stood in the cool of the night together, looking up at the stars.
Note 1: Negotiator Tractatus Draconum Theaeque Negotiator of the Treaty of Dragons and Tea
Note 2: "Dreams made flesh" was stolen shamelessly from Anne Bishop's Black Jewels world, because those were the words that needed to be said.